Posted by Cyrus-Shepard
Google gives, and Google takes away.
Even so, it came as a surprise when John Mueller announced Google will soon drop authorship photos from most search results.
This one hits particularly hard, as I'm known as the guy who
optimized his Google author photo. Along with many other SEOs, I constantly advise webmasters to connect their content writers with Google authorship. Up until now, would-be authors clamored to verify authorship, both for the potential of increased click-through rates, and also for greater brand visibility by introducing real people into search results.
How are author photos changing?
The announcement means author photos in most Google search results are going away. John Mueller indicated the change will roll out globally over the next few days.
Up until now, if you
verified your authorship through Google+, and Google choose to display it, you might have seen your author photo displayed in Google search results. This included both your author photo and your Google circle count.
Going forward, Google plans to only display the author's name in the search snippet, dropping the photo and the circle count.
Google News adds a different twist.
In this case, Google's plans show them adding a small author photo next to Google News snippets, in addition to a larger news photo snippet.
At this time, we're not sure how authorship in Google News will display in mobile results.
Why did Google drop author photos?
In his announcement, John Mueller said they were working to clean up the visual design of search results, and also to create a "better mobile experience and a more consistent design across devices."
This makes sense in the way Google has
embraced mobile-first design. Those photos take up a lot of real estate on small screens.
On the other hand, it also leaves many webmasters scratching their heads as most seemed to enjoy the author photos and most of the web is moving towards a more visual experience.
John Mueller indicated that testing shows that "click-through behavior" with the new results
is about the same, but we don't know exactly what that means. One of the reasons authors like the photos in search results was the belief that a good photo could result in more clicks (although this was never a certainty).
Will the new SERPs result in the same amount of clicks for authorship results? For now, it's hard to say.
Critics argue that the one thing that will actually become more visible as a result of this change will be Google's ads at the top and sides of the page.
What isn't changing?
Despite this very drastic visual change in Google search results, several things
are not changing:
1. Authorship is still here
As Mark Traphagen eloquently
pointed out on Google+, the loss of photos does not mean Google authorship itself is going anywhere.
"Google Authorship continues. Qualifying authors will still get a byline on search results, so Google hasn't abandoned it."
2. Authors' names still appear in search results
In the new system, authors still get their name displayed in search results, which presumably clicks through to their Google+ profile. Will this be enough to sway searchers into clicking a link? Time will tell.
3. Your rankings don't change
Authorship does not influence rankings for most search results. (exceptions for certain results like In-depth articles) Sometimes the photo led to more clicks for some people, but the new change should not alter the order of results.
4. You must still verify authorship for enhanced snippets
Google isn't changing the guidelines for establishing authorship. This can be accomplished either through email verification or linking your content to your Google+ profile, and adding a link back to your website from your Google+ contributor section.
Tracking your authorship CTR
If you have authorship set up, you can easily track changes to your click-through rate using Google Webmaster Tools. Navigate to Labs > Author Stats to see how many time your author information has appeared in search results, along with total number of clicks and average position.
In the example above, search results associated with my authorship receive around 50,000 impressions a day, with an average of 1831 clicks, for an overall CTR of 3.6%.
If you track your CTR immediately before and after the Google authorship change (by adjusting the dates in Webmaster Tools) you might notice any changes caused by the shakeup.
Keep in mind that CTR is highly determined by rank, or average position. Small fluctuations in rank can mean a large difference in the number of clicks each URL receives.
Is Google Authorship still worth it?
For many, scoring photos in search results was the only incentive people had to verify authorship. Whether or not it increased click-through rates, it was an ego boost, and it was great to show clients. With the photos gone, it's likely fewer people will work to get verified.
Even with the photos gone, there is still ample reason to verify authorship, and I highly recommend you continue to do so.
- Even though a byline is much less visible than a photo, across the hundreds or thousands of search impressions you receive each day, those bylines can make a measurable difference in your traffic, and may improve your online visibility.
- Google continues to work on promoting authoritative authors in search results, and authorship is one of the better ways for Google to establish "identity" on the web. Google continues to make statements explaining how important identity in content is, as explained by Matt Cutts both publicly and in this rarely seen interview.
Facing the future
If Google begins to incorporate more "Author Rank" signals into its search algorithm, establishing yourself as a trusted authority now could pay off big down the road. Disappearing author photos today may someday be replaced by actual higher rankings for credible authors, but there are no guarantees.
At this point, it's hard to say exactly where the future of authorship lies, especially given the unknown future of Google+ itself.
Personally, I will be sad to see author photos disappear. Let's hope for something better down the road.
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